Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Change in Scenery

I recently moved from 350 miles N from Camp Leatherneck to Kabul. At first glance, Kabul international airport seems very modern, as there are actually several civilian aircraft parked along the runway. The airport is partially blocked off to allow military aircraft access, with restrictions set in place to separate military from civilian aircraft.

Despite the initial appearance from the outside, it more closely resembles third world airport inside, with few amenities, most of which are in place for official military use only, such as encrypted telephones, weapons and baggage transfer points, ID card scanning stations, etc. Outside the front doors, the mountains loom ahead, very steep, jagged and foreboding - some already covered in snow at higher elevations. Lately, the airport has been relatively safe, whereas the American Embassy endured a 20 hour attack in September.

Leaving Kabul International Airport, the environment quickly turns sour.  The roads I traveled were full of deep potholes, no pavement anywhere to be seen once I left the airport perimeter. A variety of "businesses" inhabits the slums and shanties sitting off the sides of the road, with a crazy mish-mash of buildings, garbage, trash piles, junk cars, and rubble all mixed together in some odd form of apparent civilization. I actually think it's worse than Iraq...there is still much destruction left over from not only recent fighting, but from the Soviet occupation 20 years ago. I am told that the opposite side of town is much more modern, but I have yet to see it.

There was significant traffic getting out to the compound where I  currently reside, with cars jockeying for positions to pass each other on the roadway, all trying not to bottom out in some of the largest potholes (more closely resembling craters) I've ever seen; cars were sometimes spaced 2 to 3 wide across the road; at other times, there might have been 4 or 5 side by side, each headed different directions, a near disaster. Here, the biggest car wins, and most of them are owned by westerners - military, contractors, or government of some sort.

Throughout the drive, I viewed a variety of compounds obviously built for coalition forces or foreign contractors. They are obvious, as all are surrounded by huge walls, concertina wire and hescoe barriers to discourage attacks. Host nation guards are visible at most gates and block entrance to the compounds. Regardless, you never feel absolutely safe in this environment. 

Situated on the slope of a large mountain, my particular compound lies at nearly 5000 feet elevation and has a great view of Kabul. Nearby, the mountain steeply rises another 1000 feet where an ANA (Afgh National Army) outpost rests along the ridge line looking directly down at us. 

The mountain is littered with unexploded ordnance left over from the soviet invasion. Just last month, a goat allegedly managed to get away from his herder and blew itself up after stepping a few feet off the well traveled trail leading up the mountain. Several of the compound residents here have climbed the same mountain, but make the climb with body armor, long guns and a heightened state alert for safety sake. It makes the climb a little harder, but the view is apparently worth the climb.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the visual. You should try Djibouti next time. It might actually be a step (or two) up!

WSG said...

Thank goodness you are there and not in Southeast where it is really dangerous.

Your BR Lapthe said...

Hey buddy! Glad to see you are doing well..swing by ISAF HQ when you get a chance to have a cup of coffee together..

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